The King’s (Charles I) Speech from the Scaffold

Just after ten in the morning on 30 January 1649, after walking his dog in St James’s Park and having consumed a glass of claret and some bread for breakfast Charles I was led from his place of incarceration at the Palace of St James to the Banqueting House in Whitehall and his place of execution. There he waited patiently while the Parliament that had passed sentence of death upon their King finalised the legislation that made it legal. In the meantime, the King requested an extra shirt should any shivering on such a cold day be mistaken for fear on his part.

As the clock struck twelve with flags fluttering in the breeze and the drum roll sounding a heavy beat he was escorted by armed guards to the scaffold. There he looked out upon a vast but subdued crowd mournful as if they could not quite believe their eyes and did not like what they saw.

Before meeting his fate the King would speak but he would address his words to Dr William Juxon, his former High Lord Treasurer who at his request had accompanied him to the scaffold rather than the people confident then that his words, and indeed the defence that had been denied him at his trial would be heard and faithfully recorded:

I shall be very little heard of anybody here, I shall therefore speak a word unto you here.

Indeed I could hold my peace very well, if I did not think that holding my peace would make some men think that I did submit to the guilt as well as to the punishment. But I think it is my duty to God first and to my country for to clear myself both as an honest man and a good King, and a good Christian. I shall begin first with my innocence. In truth I think it not very needful for me to insist long upon this for, all the world knows that I never did begin a War with the two Houses of Parliament. And I call God to witness, to whom I must shortly make an account, that I never did intend for to encroach upon their privileges. They began upon me, it is the Militia they began upon, they confess that the Militia was mine, but they thought it fit for to have it from me. And, to be short, if anybody will look to the dates of Commissions, of their commissions and mine, and likewise to the Declarations, will see clearly that they began these unhappy troubles, not I. So that as the guilt of these enormous crimes that are laid against me I hope in God that God will clear me of it, I will not, I am in charity. God forbid that I should lay it upon the two Houses of Parliament; there is no necessity of either, I hope that they are free of this guilt; for I do believe that ill instruments between them and me has been the chief cause of all this bloodshed; so that by way of speaking, as I find myself clear of this, I hope (and pray God) that they may too; yet for all this, God forbid that I should be so ill a Christian as not to say that Gods Judgments are just upon me. Many times he does pay justice by an unjust sentence, that is ordinary; I will only say this, That an unjust sentence (Strafford) that I suffered for to take effect, is punished now by an unjust sentence upon me; that is, so far as I have said, to show you that I am an innocent man.

Now for to show you that I am a good Christian; I hope there is a good man that will bear me witness that I have forgiven all the world, and even those in particular that have been the chief causes of my death. Who they are, God knows, I do not desire to know, God forgive them. But this is not all, my charity must go further. I wish that they may repent, for indeed they have committed a great sin in that particular. I pray God, with St. Stephen, that this be not laid to their charge. Nay, not only so, but that they may take the right way to the peace of the kingdom, for my charity commands me not only to forgive particular men, but my charity commands me to endeavour to the last gasp the Peace of the Kingdom. So, Sirs, I do wish with all my soul, and I do hope there is some here that will carry it further, that they may endeavour the peace of the Kingdom. Now, (Sirs) I must show you both how you are out of the way and will put you in a way; first, you are out of the way, for certainly all the way you have ever had yet, as I could find by anything, is by way of conquest. Certainly this is an ill way, for Conquest, (Sir) in my opinion, is never just, except that there be a good just Cause, either for matter of wrong or just Title, and then if you go beyond it, the first quarrel that you have to it, that makes it unjust at the end that was just at the first: But if it be only matter of conquest, there is a great robbery; as a Pirate said to Alexander, that He was the great robber, he was but a petty robber: and so, Sir, I do think the way that you are in, is much out of the way. Now Sir, for to put you in the way, believe it you will never do right, nor God will never prosper you, until you give God his due, the King his due (that is, my Successors) and the People their due; I am as much for them as any of you: You must give God his due by regulating rightly His Church (according to the Scripture) which is now out of order. For to set you in a way particularly now I cannot, but only this, a national synod freely called, freely debating among themselves, must settle this, when that every opinion is freely and clearly heard.

For the people, and truly I desire their Liberty and Freedom as much as anybody whomsoever. But I must tell you, that their Liberty and Freedom, consists in having of Government; those Laws, by which their Life and their Gods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government sir, that is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things, and therefore until they do that, I mean, that you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves.

Sirs, it was for this that now I am come here. If I would have given way to an Arbitrary way, for to have all Laws changed according to the power of the Sword, I needed not to have come here; and therefore, I tell you, (and I pray God it be not laid to your charge) That I Am the Martyr of the People.

In truth, Sirs, I shall not hold you much longer, for I will only say thus to you. That in truth I could have desired some little time longer, because I would have put then that I have said in a little more order, and a little better digested than I have done. And, therefore, I hope that you will excuse me.

I have delivered my Conscience. I pray God, that you do take those courses that are best for the good of the Kingdom and your own Salvations.

I go from a corruptible, to an incorruptible Crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the World.

 

 

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